Another State Court Says Speedy Fourth Amendment Violations Are Still Just Fourth Amendment Violations
from the BRING-ME-YOUR-FASTEST-DRUG-DOG dept
Another court has handed down a decision that upholds the standard set by the Supreme Court in the Rodriguez decision. That standard is pretty cut and dry: any Constitutional violation is still a Constitutional violation — whether it lasts 30 seconds or ten minutes. In the context of a traffic stop, any actions taken not supported by reasonable suspicion — like running a drug dog around the vehicle or spending time begging for consent for a search — are not allowed under the Fourth Amendment.
It was assumed law enforcement would just search for ways to speed up these unrelated activities so that traffic stops wouldn’t be “unreasonably prolonged.” The Supreme Court gave no guidance on what constituted an unreasonably lengthy traffic stop. Scott Greenfield theorized officers would read this decision to mean they could still do all the things they wanted to do, just so long as the stop ended whenever the “objective” — usually the delivery of a citation — was complete.
But then, there is the takeaway. Have the dog there before you hand over the ticket and you get a sniff, no Constitution allowed. Don’t rush the ticket, because nobody knows how long it does, or should, take to complete the core mission. And if the dog happens to show before it’s done, boom, lawful.
Ask those Frisbee questions before you hand over the paperwork. Seek consent while you still have the driver’s license in hand. Smell the car for that “pungent” odor, peer knowingly for that furtive gesture, or stare carefully for those watery and lethargic eyes, before you hand over the papers.
This theory seems have been proven correct. Law enforcement officers have drawn the wrong conclusion from the Rodriguez decision. That’s probably to be expected, as law enforcement really loves the relaxed Constitutional guidelines surrounding traffic stops. The upside is that courts aren’t allowing them to get away with it.
A recent decision covered here found that there was no minimum amount of time needed to violate the Constitution. It was the violation that mattered, not the length of time it took to violate it. In the course of a traffic stop, a drug dog was deployed. That it occurred simultaneously with the normal traffic stop paperwork made no difference. The evidence was suppressed by the court, relying on the Rodriguez decision.
The Idaho Supreme Court has reached the same conclusion in another case — one that also involved a speedily-deployed drug dog. In this case, the traffic stop lasted over twenty minutes, but the drug dog’s involvement was less than three minutes of that total. Much like the earlier decision, the slight delay isn’t the deciding factor. The “unnecessary” part of the “prolongment” is. (h/t FourthAmendment.com)
From the opinion [PDF]:
Deputy Bryce Moore (“Deputy Moore”) arrived at the scene with his drug detection dog (“Hash*”) at approximately 10:38 a.m., ten minutes after he was called and nineteen minutes after the stop was initiated. At that time, Officer Bridges stopped writing the citation and running the warrant checks. Deputy Moore then approached Mrs. Linze and asked for consent to search her vehicle. When she refused consent, Deputy Moore walked Hash around the exterior of the vehicle. Hash gave a positive alert at the front of the vehicle. At trial, the State estimated, based on speaking with Officer Bridges, that the time from Deputy Moore’s arrival to Hash’s alert was two and a half minutes. The State conceded that during those two and a half minutes, Officer Bridges had stopped pursuing the original purpose of the stop and was instead serving a “backup function” to Deputy Moore.
*[I know, right?]
The State’s concession matters. That’s what ultimately undoes its bid to prevent suppression of the evidence. Two and half minutes is more than enough time to violate the Fourth Amendment.
Here, we have a case in which a police officer had probable cause because Mrs. Linze was driving with a cracked windshield, which constitutes a traffic violation. It follows that the initial seizure was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The pertinent question before this Court is whether or not the seizure remained reasonable under the Fourth Amendment once Officer Bridges abandoned the purpose of the seizure in order to aid in a search for contraband. We hold that it did not.
The State’s argument follows Greenfield’s projection: we can violate the Fourth Amendment as long as it happens within a reasonable amount of time.
The State suggests that Rodriguez allows a seizing officer to deviate from the purpose of a traffic stop up until the time at which the stop should have been reasonably completed. In other words, for each traffic stop there is an objective amount of time within which that stop should reasonably be completed and any unrelated action taken by an officer within that amount of time does not violate the seized parties’ Fourth Amendment rights.
The defense’s interpretation more accurately portrays the Supreme Court’s findings in Rodriguez.
Conversely, Mr. Linze reasons that a deviation from the original purpose of a traffic stop will inevitably lengthen the time needed to complete the original purpose of the seizure, and, accordingly, will result in a stop that “exceed[s] the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made.” Under Mr. Linze’s suggested interpretation, the timing of an officer’s departure from the original purpose of the seizure is irrelevant, it only matters that the officer departed from that purpose.
Mr. Linze wins.
We hold that Mr. Linze’s interpretation of Rodriguez is correct. The United States Supreme Court has plainly established that a traffic stop is a seizure, but it is not an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment so long as there is a reasonable suspicion that the vehicle is being driven contrary to traffic laws. United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417 (1981). The stop remains a reasonable seizure while the officer diligently pursues the purpose of the stop, to which that reasonable suspicion is related. However, should the officer abandon the purpose of the stop, the officer no longer has that original reasonable suspicion supporting his actions. Indeed, when an officer abandons his or her original purpose, the officer has for all intents and purposes initiated a new seizure with a new purpose; one which requires its own reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment. This new seizure cannot piggy-back on the reasonableness of the original seizure.
Once again, law enforcement engages in its own, unsupported interpretation of the Rodriguez decision. And once again, a state court tells it to work on its reading comprehension skills.
Then there’s this bit of inadvertent hilarity, provided by one of the officers on the scene to shore up the state’s “not unreasonably prolonged” arguments. The gist of it is: I’m not killing time to wait for drug dogs. I’m just kind of terrible at traffic stops.
At the hearing, Officer Bridges testified that he did not delay the traffic stop while waiting for the K–9 Unit to arrive. He testified that the stop took twenty minutes because: “I was thorough. On warrant checks I ran both through the computer. And my handwriting is very sloppy, so I take my time when I write my tickets. . . . If I would have finished early, I would have called off the canine.”
That last part is literally unbelievable. I would not hesitate to bet real money that Officer Bridges has never “called off a canine” in his career as a law enforcement officer. Only the rarest of law enforcement officers would turn down a chance to run a K-9 around a stopped vehicle. The problem now is the Supreme Court says they can no longer do it just because.